You’re not the only one who thinks of Wonder Woman as more than a novelty Halloween costume. In fact, she was featured in last week’s Athena Film Festival at Barnard. Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, follows Wonder Woman’s path from comic book superheroine to sex icon of the small screen. The film also examines how media representations of women reveal concerns over their power and liberation. The Eye sat down with Guevara-Flanagan to talk about the lack of female superheroes today, the decline of comic books in the digital age, and her dream movie franchise.
What drove you to become so fascinated by the history of a comic book character?
It was kind of a gradual thing that happened. I read one article about [comic book writer] Gail Simone. I wasn’t even up, really, on the comic history of Wonder Woman at that time, but the article mentioned that  was the first time the comic book would be written by a woman. I just thought that was really odd and such a contradiction: that Wonder Woman, such a great figure of female empowerment, was actually being created by a guy and [had] never even been written by a woman until recently. I started having her on my radar a bit more and went back one day, looked at her origins, and found a really fascinating character who I thought was exciting for being created in the ’40s. She still felt unique as a female hero in terms of the kind[s] of heroes we see today. I feel like the more I research about Wonder Woman, [the more] I find more interesting of a history. I had no idea she had been on the cover of Ms. Magazine when it was just starting out. I had no idea Gloria Steinem wrote about her. It kind of became something interesting to me that you could trace the history of women as heroes and women’s history through her. She pulled all of these ideas into her own history and chronology.
Your film doesn’t just focus on Wonder Woman, right?
It branches out and shows her as this original female hero, who allowed for these other women to emerge in popular culture. If we hadn’t had her, I don’t think we’d have people like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even science fiction heroes like Ripley from Alien. The film, at a certain point, shows the Wonder Woman TV show and looks at these different examples of female heroism on-screen. I think of her as one of our predecessors.
I feel that it’s a good time for real-life role models, such as female comedians and directors, yet there’s a lack of strong fictional female figures. Do you agree?
Yeah, I sort of do agree. There’s especially a lack of larger-than-life characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There hasn’t been a Buffy in years—decades. We have someone like Bella from Twilight. She’s really popular, but she’s not really heroic. We have young women who are strong like Hermione in Harry Potter, but ultimately the story’s centered around Harry, not her. We have women in ensembles, but not heroes like a Buffy or a Wonder Woman, with the exception of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Maybe with the next version of that we’ll see some more examples of that kind of female heroism.
Do you feel as though comic books themselves are
The amount of people who actually read comic books has gone lower and lower since the ’40s and ’50s. It’s a pretty small group, but we’re creating Hollywood blockbusters from these comic books. Those are how most people recognize the characters.
So, it’s kind of a travesty that Wonder Woman hasn’t had a big Hollywood blockbuster because that’s how people recognize superheroes today. There’s so much money devoted to male-superhero-centered blockbuster films. What would be your dream scenario if there were to be a movie franchise made about a superheroine?
There’s a really interesting comic book called Birds of Prey about a group of women heroes. One of them is actually disabled. They work together and I think it’d be great as a film. They are just very complete characters and have great backstories. One of the things you still see today is, regardless of being a fantasy superhero film or just a drama, you rarely see women on-screen having relationships with one another. It’s easier than ever to make videos, since so many people have access to webcams and smartphones.
Do you think that technology can change the way women are depicted?
It’s easier to make media, but it’s even easier to find an audience through YouTube and other kinds of social media. You can connect with people you could never connect with before. There is some power in that, but anonymity can bring out the worst in people. Harassment online is a really big issue and can really be a deterrent to people feeling safe enough to put their own work out there.
What would you like people to take away from your film?
I’d like people to really think about ... where our heroes come from and what kind of effect they have on us, culturally. I’d like to see women and girls that read comic books going to comic book conventions and complaining when female characters they like are killed off. I’d like people to push themselves to support female directors and, if there is a film they want to make, they shouldn’t feel intimidated by technology. They should think about media critically and if you don’t like what you see, tell people making the media that you want better representation.